Method and Theory. in American Archaeology. GORDON R. WILLEY and PHILIP PHILLIPS. A rchaeology and. of the prehi$iqty\ of the Americas^

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1 Method and Theory in American Archaeology GORDON R. WILLEY and PHILIP PHILLIPS A rchaeology and Anthropology meet in thi&stud^ of the prehi$iqty\ of the Americas^ P88 $1.50 (U.K. 10/6»

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8 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London The University of Toronto Press, Toronto 5, Canada 1958 by The University of Chicago. Published 1958 First Phoenix Edition 1962 Third Impression 1963 Composed and printed by The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.



11 Preface In the summer of 1952, as a result of numerous discussions, we decided to set down our thoughts on certain methodological and theoretical questions in American archaeology. The original plan was an article in two parts : the first, a statement of what we believed to be the minimal aims of archaeology and the basic operations directed toward the achievement of these aims, and the second, some theoretical formulations about New World prehistory. The first part was subsequently published under the title "Method and Theory in American Archaeology: An Operational Basis for Culture-Historical Integration." 1 The second part followed a year and a half later as "Method and Theory in American Archaeology II: Historical-Developmental Interpretation." 2 The comments and criticism which these papers drew from colleagues and students have kept us interested in the subject, and, as a result, we have rewritten both original papers and combined them, along with an introduction, originally published as a brief journal article, 3 in the present volume. A good many of the revisions and additions we have made to the original papers are the result of second thoughts, which we trust are better than the first ones. Others, by no means the least substantial, are the direct result of critical comments and suggestions on the part of colleagues in archaeology and anthropology. To list them all would provide a roster of impressive proportions. We would, however, like to single out Albert C. Spaulding and Irving Rouse for the time, interest, and advice they have expended in our behalf. 1. Phillips and Willey, Willey and Phillips, Phillips, Vll

12 Finally, a word about the restrictive connotation of the qualifying term "American" as used in our title and throughout the book. Obviously, the methods, theories, and ideas in general which are propounded and discussed in this work are not limited to the Americas any more than archaeology is so limited. Many, or most, of them have originated in the Old World with Americanists as late borrowers. We have used the qualification inasmuch as our own experience is in the American field and all the examples and subject matter are so confined. There is another reason for using the term. In no other large part of the world does archaeology stand so completely on its own feet as in the New World. The historic continuities and documentation binding past to present are infinitely weaker here than in the European, Middle Eastern, and Asiatic areas where archaeology has been carried forward. American archaeology complements, but is in no sense an adjunct of, history; hence its methodology stands in somewhat sharper relief than the methodology in many parts of the Old World. This is not a denial of the vital importance of historical and ethnological data in interpreting the American past, but such considerations lie outside the scope of this book. Gordon R. Willey Philip Phillips vm

13 Contents Introduction: American Archaeology and General Anthropological Theory / PART I. AN OPERATIONAL BASIS FOR CULTURE- HISTORICAL INTEGRATION 1, Archaeological Unit Concepts Archaeological Integration 44 Summary 57 PART II. HISTORICAL-DEVELOPMENTAL INTERPRETATION 3. The Historical-Developmental Approach in American Archaeology Lithic Stage Archaic Stage Formative Stage Classic Stage Postclassic Stage 193 Summary 200 BIBLIOGRAPHY Bibliography 209 Index 259 IX


15 Introduction American Archaeology and General Anthropological Theory It has been said that archaeology, while providing data and generalizations in such fields as history and general anthropology, lacks a systematic body of concepts and premises constituting archaeological theory. According to this view, the archaeologist must borrow his theoretical underpinning from the field of study his work happens to serve, or do without. Whether the latter alternative be an admissible one does not seem to be an arguable point. Acceptable field work can perhaps be done in a theoretical vacuum, but integration and interpretation without theory are inconceivable. The above remarks apply to archaeology in general, but the sole concern of this study is American archaeology. It seems to us that American archaeology stands in a particularly close and, so far as theory is concerned, dependent relationship to anthropology. Its service to history in the narrower sense, i.e., as the record of events in the past with the interest centered on those events, is extremely limited, because for pre-columbian America there is in effect no such history. The use of traditions derived from native informants and other documentary sources of the contact period as starting points for pushing back into the unrecorded past the "direct historical approach" is not archaeology serving history, but the reverse. As a technique of investigation, American archaeology, like archaeology generally, provides useful data for geology, paleontology, climatology, etc., and it recovers valuable material for art museums and the study of aesthetics, but it is not involved theo- INTRODUCTION

16 retically with any of these subjects. To paraphrase Maitland's famous dictum: American archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing. The American archaeologist, unless he thinks he can dispense with theory altogether, is therefore obliged to take a stand on some of the basic questions of general anthropological theory. This we shall do briefly in the following pages. The methods outlined in this study, and our arguments in their behalf, are predicated on two general theoretical assumptions: (1) that anthropology is more science than history, and (2) that the subject matter of anthropology is both society and culture. The first part of this statement appears to settle out of hand the position of anthropology in respect to the dichotomy science-history, a question that has vexed philosophers ever since the emergence of anthropology as a field of study. It seems to us that the force of this antithesis is largely spent. There is now considerable agreement among theorists that the world of anthropology is a mixture of recurrent and unique events acting and reacting upon each other in a tremendously complex fashion. The only serious disagreements are in respect to the role and importance of the two components of the mixture. Our view is that the part played by recurrent events, though it may be the smaller, is the more significant; and that this is just as true for an archaeology devoted to the service of anthropology as it is for anthropology itself. Archaeology, in the service of anthropology, concerns itself necessarily with the nature and position of unique events in space and time but has for its ultimate purpose the discovery of regularities that are in a sense spaceless and timeless. 1 And, since it appears that a comparative method will be most likely to disclose such regularities, it follows that the archaeologist is faced with the responsibility of finding, in the seemingly endless flow of cultural and social events, forms and 1. This we hope will not be taken to mean that the events referred to take place outside space and time. In this and all subsequent references to space and time in this study, it is of course geographical space and chronological time that are denoted. METHOD AND THEORY IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY

17 systems of forms that are not only comparable to each other but also comparable to, or at least compatible with, the forms and systems of forms of cultural or social anthropology. 2 We shall return to this point later. The second article of belief referred to above is that the subject matter of anthropology is both society and culture, another polarity that is not standing up under analysis. The interpenetration of social and cultural facts now seems to be taken as axiomatic. Following Kroeber and others, we have chosen to regard them here as aspects of the same basic reality. Definition of this basic reality is fortunately outside the scope of the present inquiry. It is sufficient for our purposes to characterize it loosely as patterned human behavior. Archaeology, of necessity, deals very largely with patterned human behavior in its cultural aspect. In American archaeology especially, we have tended to suppress the social aspect altogether. Some Americanists have been drawn into the extreme position that sees in culture an independent order of phenomena, intelligible in terms of itself alone the "cultural superorganic." Most of us, without subscribing to the superorganic view of culture, have nevertheless operated "as if" it were a fact. In our opinion even this moderate position, though operationally expedient and to a certain extent inevitable, is ultimately detrimental to the main task of archaeology, which is to organize its data in terms of a real world, a world in which cultural and social phenomena (to name only these) are inextricably mingled. The reader will have noted by this time that we are driving toward an accommodation between the seemingly opposed methods and outlook of archaeology and cultural anthropology. Compari- 2. "Social anthropology" in England, "cultural anthropology" in the United States these are not precise equivalents but are closer, it seems to us, than practitioners in the two countries appear to believe. From the detached point of view of the archaeologist, at any rate, they are practically synonymous terms. In this study we follow the American usage but without any convictions regarding the predominance of the cultural over the social aspect of our subject matter. INTRODUCTION

18 son may be facilitated by considering the operations of the two disciplines on three levels of organization that are generally applicable to all scientific analysis: observation, description, and explanation. The accompanying diagram is a crude attempt to show how the operations of archaeology and cultural anthropology can be considered as converging toward a synthesis from one level to the next. Explanation Description Observation Processual interpretation Culture-historical integration Field work Archaeology Ethnology Ethnography Field work Cultural Anthropology On the observational level, archaeological and cultural anthropological field work are placed far apart on the diagram because of wide differences in the phenomena observed. These differences, however, can be too easily overemphasized. Cultural anthropology observes group behavior and the products of group behavior in their twofold aspects, social and cultural. Its primary concern is with the social aspect, but certain categories of behavior, notably those which are symbolized in language, art, myth, etc., may be studied very largely in their cultural aspect. Archaeology observes primarily the materialized products of group behavior but has considerable opportunity to observe symbolized behavior in the forms of art, iconography, and (rarely) written language, and occasionally touches social behavior through inferences, as in the interpretation of burial practices, house plans, settlement patterns, roads, irrigation systems, and the like. Thus it appears that the raw materials of the two disciplines are not so different after all; what is different is that archaeology is obliged to view its material almost entirely in the cultural aspect. It has sometimes attempted to turn this limitation into an asset by embracing the cultural superorganic, as already noted. METHOD AND THEORY IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY

19 The term "culture-historical integration," as used here, covers almost everything the archaeologist does in the way of organizing his primary data : typology, taxonomy, formulation of archaeological "units," investigation of their relationships in the contexts of function and natural environment, and determination of their internal dimensions and external relationships in space and time. However high-sounding these terms, it appears that the activities represented by them remain essentially on the descriptive level. Explanatory concepts, such as acculturation, diffusion, and stimulus diffusion, are utilized, but the aim is primarily to describe what happened to specific cultural units at specific times and places; no attempt is made (on this level) to draw generalizations from these observations and descriptions. Culture-historical integration is thus comparable to ethnography with the time dimension added, but we dare not push this analogy too far, because the archaeologist's descriptive formulations, like his observations, lie mainly in the cultural aspect of his subject matter. Later in this book we make a plea for unit concepts that are intelligible in the social aspect as well, but we are under no illusion that any except the very smallest of them can be precisely equated with correspondent units of social structure. Nevertheless, we have placed culture-historical integration and ethnography closer together on the diagram than their respective field operations, in the belief that archaeological unit concepts can and should make more sense in terms of the social aspect than is generally supposed. So little work has been done in American archaeology on the explanatory level that it is difficult to find a name for it. It might have been left blank on the diagram to emphasize this lack. The term "functional interpretation," which has gained a certain amount of currency in American studies, was used in the original version of this diagram but is not entirely satisfactory, since it implies that the functional is the only explanatory principle involved. We have substituted here the broader "processual interpretation," which might conceivably cover any explanatory principle that might be invoked. In the context of archaeology, processual interpretation INTRODUCTION

20 is the study of the nature of what is vaguely referred to as the culture-historical process. Practically speaking, it implies an attempt to discover regularities in the relationships given by the methods of culture-historical integration. Whatever we choose to call it, the important consideration is that, on this explanatory level of organization where we are no longer asking merely what but also how and even why, our formulations must be viewed in both their cultural and their social aspects. 3 It is not possible to go about investigating culture-historical processes and causality without reference to the efficient causes of cultural change, which are people or groups of people, and therefore lie in the social aspect of reality. Perhaps it is fair to say that there has been a lack of progress in processual interpretation in American archaeology to date precisely because unit formulations have been put together with so little reference to their social aspect. In the same vein of optimism already displayed, we have put processual interpretation and ethnology (which includes among its many meanings the operations of cultural anthropology on the explanatory level) side by side on the diagram to suggest a further convergence of aims, if not of practice. At this point, the archaeologist is in effect a cultural anthropologist, 4 but it is well to remember that his activities on this level are conditioned by his formulations on the descriptive level and that 3. To name only two of the important factors in a complex equation. Geographical and ecological factors, already present on the descriptive level, carry over with increased importance onto the explanatory level. These have been deliberately ignored in our diagram, which is focused on the special relationships between the cultural and social aspects of anthropology. The same neglect of physiological and psychological factors should be noted. 4. This point has been very well put by Walter Taylor, who also rationalizes the operations of archaeology on a series of levels that differ in detail from ours but can be reconciled with them, as in the following passage: "When the archaeologist collects his data [observational level], constructs his cultural contexts [descriptive level] and on the basis of these contexts proceeds to make a comparative study of the nature and workings of culture in its formal, functional, and/or developmental aspects [explanatory level], then he is 'doing' cultural anthropology and can be considered an anthropologist who works in archaeological materials" (1948, p. 43). METHOD AND THEORY IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY

21 these in turn have special characteristics which it is our purpose to describe. Diagrams and models have the happy faculty of proving whatever they are designed to prove, and ours is no exception. Nevertheless, we think that this model, in spite of the crude simplification inherent in any system of "levels," represents a pattern that is not wholly fictitious. As archaeology, in the service of anthropology, moves from one operational level to the next, it is compelled to pay more attention to the social aspect of its subject matter, until there takes place on the explanatory level an actual convergence with cultural anthropology and the possibility of an eventual synthesis in a common search for sociocultural causality and law. INTRODUCTION


23 Part I An Operational Basis for Culture-Historical Integration


25 Chapter 1 Archaeological Unit Concepts "Culture-historical integration" is the term we have chosen to designate what we regard as the primary task of archaeology on the descriptive level of organization. The procedural objectives of culture-historical integration have tended to be divided, in theoretical writings on American archaeology, between the reconstruction of spatial-temporal relationships, on the one hand, and what may be called contextual relationships, on the other. 1 Operationally, neither is attainable without the other. The reconstruction of meaningful human history needs both structure and content. Cultural forms may be plotted to demonstrate geographical continuity and contemporaneity, but, when we move to establish historical relationships between them, we immediately invoke processes like diffusion, trade, conquest, or migration and in so doing shift the problem from the bare frame of space and time into the realm of context and function. Conversely, the processes named have no historical applicability without control of the spatial and temporal media in which they operate. Taylor was undoubtedly correct in stating that American archaeologists have placed heavy 1. Taylor, in the work already cited (1948), puts these procedures on two distinct levels of interpretation, which he calls "chronicle" and "historiography." See also Willey's (1953a) use of the terms "historical" and "processual." The latter term was used by Willey in reference to the description of the way in which specific cultures function in specific times and places, not as we are using it in the present study in reference to the attempt to draw generalizations from culture-historical data. All four terms, "chronicle," "historiography," "historical," and "processual," in the writings cited, refer to operations on the descriptive level of organization as defined in the present study. ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNIT CONCEPTS 11

26 emphasis on the skeletal chronicle at the expense of the recovery of what he calls "cultural context," but a review of the recent literature indicates a strong trend in the contrary direction. We submit that this is now an area of agreement for American archaeology : culture-historical integration is both the spatial and temporal scales and the content and relationships which they measure. The essence of this study's departure, if it may be called a departure, is that these objectives are not regarded as being on different and unequally significant levels of interpretation or as even being capable of effective separation operationally. It seems to us that the apprehension and formulation of archaeological unit concepts involve the simultaneous investigation of contextual and spatial-temporal relationships. A method basic to archaeology on the descriptive level is taxonomy. Under this general heading, the archaeologist deals with two sorts of concepts: types, and cultures or, as we prefer to say, archaeological units. 2 The former usually pertain to artifacts or other products of technology but may be used in connection with other categories of cultural behavior such as burial types. Some archaeologists also apply the type concept to full archaeological assemblages, or units as we would call them, using the designation "culture type." While this usage has the apparent virtue of economy through elimination of the conceptual difference between type and unit, we prefer to keep them distinct, because we think that unit concepts have certain characteristics not shared by artifact types and that these in turn have important methodological bearings. Our interest here is centered on unit concepts, but a few re- 2. There is a good deal to be said for and against the prevailing use of "culture" to denote every conceivable kind of archaeological unit. It is very convenient in many cases where we do not really know what kind of unit we are dealing with, but it is conducive to sloppy thinking. We shall be trying here to confine its use to units of a certain magnitude, maximum units in fact, but are not enthusiastic about the cumbersome "archaeological unit" as an alternative. When the context is clearly archaeological, perhaps the term "unit" will suffice. METHOD AND THEORY IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY 12

27 marks on the concept of type as applied to artifacts will serve to get us into the subject. 3 There is, happily, a general working agreement among American archaeologists about what constitutes an artifact type, though there is still some dispute about what it signifies in terms of the basic reality that we have postulated as the subject matter of archaeology. The principal difference of opinion may be crudely stated as opposition between those who believe that types are arbitrarily "designed" by the classifier and those who think that types exist in nature and that the classifier "discovers" them. According to the first view, types are simply analytical tools that are to be judged solely on the basis of their usefulness; the second maintains that they have, or should have, behavioral reality in the sense that they would be recognized as norms, the "right way," in the societies that produced the objects being typed. Our attitude is that these opposing views are not completely antagonistic. We maintain that all types are likely to possess some degree of correspondence to this kind of reality and that increase of such correspondence must be the constant aim of typology. 4 The actual procedure of segregating types is therefore a more complex operation than is suggested simply by such words as "design" or "discovery," and is in effect a painstaking combination of both. No less laborious than artifact typology are the procedures involved in the formation of archaeological units, in which we have to consider not only the relationship of forms as such but their spatial and temporal relationships as well. Disregarding the latter for the moment, we may begin our consideration of the nature of 3. Another valid objection to the use of "culture type" as a synonym for "archaeological unit" is that we need such a generalizing term when we want to talk about a type of culture without reference to any specific time or place. A "theocratic irrigation state" (Steward et al., 1955, p. 65), for example, is a culture type that may in theory occur wherever the necessary cultural and natural preconditions are present. 4. Cf. Phillips, Ford, and Griffin, 1951, pp , for a discussion of the problem of the "empirical" versus the "cultural" type as applied to ceramics. Those inclined to take sides on this question are advised to see Evans, 1954; Ford, 1954a, 1954, 1954c; and Spaulding, 1953a, 1953, 1954a, ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNIT CONCEPTS 13

28 unit concepts by examining their strictly formal characteristics. We are seeking a broad definition that will cover all sorts of units, from those whose content may consist of a very small number of highly specialized forms to units represented by the fullest compendium of cultural data that can be recovered by the most refined techniques of investigation and the most imaginative interpretation. It is plain, therefore, that the size or comprehensiveness of the assemblage is no criterion. What is required rather is that the constituent forms be physiognomic, recurrent, and internally consistent. To borrow a phrase from V. Gordon Childe, they must relate to one another in a way that permits us to assume them to be "the concrete expressions of the common social traditions that bind together a people." 6 So much for the formal content of an archaeological unit of whatever magnitude. Now the particular interests of archaeology also require that this content be placed in the contexts of geographical space and time. It is often maintained that this is something the archaeologist does after the unit has been defined. However sensible in theory this may appear, in practice it does not work that way. The working procedure, as every archaeologist knows, is initial formulation, investigation of spatial and temporal dimensions, reformulation, reinvestigation of spatial and temporal dimensions, and so on indefinitely. The operation is immensely complicated by the fact that the fixing of these internal dimensions is, more often than not, dependent on external relationships. We have only to recall certain essential conditions of our unit's existence. In the same place, but before or after it in time, were similar units whose contents intergrade with its content in so-called transitional periods that are almost impossible to establish with precision; beside it in space were other contemporaneous units with similar intergrading at frontiers equally difficult to draw. Yet we maintain that the fixing of these spatial and temporal boundaries, however difficult, is an essential part of the definition of the unit. Small wonder that the unavoidably arbitrary nature of such operations 5. Childe, 1950, p. 2. METHOD AND THEORY IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY ~IA ll

29 has led many archaeologists to believe that an archaeological unit is nothing more than a fragment excised from a spatial-temporal continuum, a fragment that could not be said to have existed as a unit before it was named and defined. The same problem confronts us here that we have already discussed in connection with artifact typology. An archaeological unit, as described above, may appear to be a rational construct in terms of the observed facts of cultural continuity and cultural relationships, but what are the chances that it corresponds in any real sense to an intelligible unit of culture-history? In our original paper we took the position that such correspondences may eventually be possible but that "the archaeologist is on firmer footing at present with the conception of an archaeological culture as an arbitrarily defined segment of the total continuum." In a long and exceedingly astringent letter to the authors, Albert C. Spaulding attacked this position with such force that we have obtained his quote a portion of it here. permission to It is true that any assemblage represents a segment of a continuous stream of cultural tradition extending back into time, but once you grant the purpose of a scientific exposition of culture history, the process of classifying the time stream with respect to its cultural characteristics is anything but arbitrary. It should be classified in terms of events which are themselves associated with a cluster of other new events so as to yield a succession of distinct culture types. A possible exception to this generalization would be a segment of a continuum in which culture change did not occur, or in which change occurred at a uniform rate so that it could be represented as a straight line on a graph. In the hypothetical case of no change, classificatory subdivision would serve no useful purpose that I can think of and would be arbitrary; in the case of a slanting straight line, subdivision would in a sense also be arbitrary, since a complete description would require no more than a statement of the point of origin, slope, and point of termination (if any) of the line. In fact, the two cases are basically the same case. However, widely accepted cultural theory indicates that the normal pattern is one of relative stability, then rapid growth through the introduction of a critical new element followed very quickly by a number of other new elements, then a period of relative stability, and so on. Plotted on a time against culture change graph, this results in an ogival growth curve, and the recognition of the sharp curves is a scientific obliga- ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNIT CONCEPTS 15

30 tion of the archaeologist. The segments so recognized are certainly not the result of arbitrary classification; the changes in slope of the line are just as characteristic of it as is its continuous nature. So time itself is continuous and proceeds at an unvarying rate, but culture change in relation to time probably never proceeds at an unvarying rate, and useful archaeological classifications of chronology are those which have sharp rate changes as their limiting points. A good chronological classification yields a number of periods, each of which is characterized by a distinctive "culture" ("culture type" in my terminology), and the proper job is to pinpoint the critical element so that the time of its invention can be made to serve as the starting point of the new period. To consider a second implication of "space-time-cultural" continuum, space itself is a continuum, but culture is not uniformly distributed in that continuum. To get off a lofty crusher first, there are no archaeological sites in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, either on the surface or on the bottom. On a more sensible plane, archaeological materials characteristically occur in discrete clusters [we call them "sites"] in space, and the task of describing them includes discovery of their boundaries there isn't any arbitrary slicing up of a uniform continuum involved in the problem. To turn now to what I think you actually have in mind, it is quite conceivable that the cultural characteristics of components might vary uniformly or continuously (i.e. in infinitely small steps, or at a uniform slope, so that the spatial position against cultural content graph, time controlled, shows a curve or straight line instead of a noticeably jagged line), but I am uncertain as to how important this is in fact. I think that ethnographic evidence strongly indicates that if any considerable number of components over any substantial area were considered, a classification of culture type with respect to space would reveal fairly neat clustering, not simple polarity or radiation. Certainly you would concede this if sharp ecological boundaries were involved. Discovery of clustering at the multicomponent level would eliminate the claims of arbitrariness effectively. In summary, then, your vague and sweeping talk about arbitrary slicing up of a continuum results in the confounding of several important cultural problems and leads to methodological obfuscation, not clarification. Without yielding entirely before Spaulding's assault, we are prepared to admit that the assumption of a more or less unvarying rate of cultural change in overdone, by us as well as by others. a spatial-temporal continuum has been We now prefer to say that the archaeologist is on a firmer footing with the concept of an archaeological unit as a provisionally defined segment of the total METHOD AND THEORY IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY 16

31 continuum, whose ultimate validation will depend on the degree to which its internal spatial and temporal dimensions can be shown to coincide with significant variations in the nature and rate of cultural change in that continuum. In simpler terms, it is the archaeologist's job to be aware of the arbitrary nature of his unit concepts and, at the same time, alert to the possibility of making them less arbitrary. Absorbing as this question of cultural continuity and change must be to all archaeologists, it is really not an issue in the present discussion. Our object here is to show that a fundamental, unvarying characteristic of all archaeological unit formulations of whatever magnitude is that they are arrived at by combining three sorts of data: formal content, distribution in geographical space, and duration in time. These three ingredients are present, though not always explicit, in all unit concepts but may differ significantly in the part they play in the formulation. Variations in content, generally but not always a function of the limits of available information and the archaeologist's ability to draw inferences therefrom, need not concern us here. Our interest centers rather on variations in spatial and temporal dimensions and particularly on the fact that there is no regular (or constant) relationship between variations in these two dimensions. Probably a large share of our classificatory difficulties and the ensuing arguments could be avoided by the general recognition of this fact. It becomes essential, therefore, in the definition and use of archaeological unit concepts of whatever nature to understand precisely what quantities of space and time are involved in the formulation. In the search for practicable units of study, American archaeologists have invented a large number of unit concepts and designated them by an even larger number of names. Our initial requirement, therefore, is a comprehensive nomenclature by means of which existing schemes and their working parts can be roughly equated. We have committed ourselves to the proposition that all unit concepts, whatever the outlook and intentions of their originators, have implicit spatial and temporal dimensions. Therefore, they can ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNIT CONCEPTS 17

32 be differentiated by reference to the amounts of space and time they are thought to involve. If these premises be granted, it seems a reasonable approach to bring one of these two variables under control before considering it in combination with the other. The spatial factor is easier to deal with; so we may begin by setting forth a series of geographical categories that we have found useful in this connection. SPATIAL DIVISIONS A site is the smallest unit of space dealt with by the archaeologist and the most difficult to define. Its physical limits, which may vary from a few square yards to as many square miles, are often impossible to fix. About the only requirement ordinarily demanded of the site is that it be fairly continuously covered by remains of former occupation, and the general idea is that these pertain to a single unit of settlement, which may be anything from a small camp to a large city. Upon excavation, of course, it rarely turns out to be that simple. The site is the basic unit for stratigraphic studies; it is an almost certain assumption that cultural changes here can only be the result of the passage of time. It is in effect the minimum operational unit of geographical space. A locality is a slightly larger spatial unit, varying in size from a single site to a district of uncertain dimensions; it is generally not larger than the space that might be occupied by a single community or local group. It is hardly necessary to add that such limits as are implied in this qualification have the variability found in the size and settlement patterns of local groups from one sort of society to another. In strictly archaeological terms, the locality is a geographical space small enough to permit the working assumption of complete cultural homogeneity at any given time. This is not to say that two or more discrete archaeological units might not, under special conditions, simultaneously occupy the same locality, or even the same site. For example, it has long been thought that people carrying an intrusive Salado culture occupied certain sites of the Gila-Salt region of south-central Arizona and coexisted METHOD AND THEORV IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY 18

33 peacefully with the indigenous Hohokam populations. 6 If this is the correct interpretation of the archaeology of the sites in question, it reflects a rather uncommon situation. Examples of localities well known in the literature of American archaeology are given below in connection with the discussion of local sequences. A region is a considerably larger unit of geographical space usually determined by the vagaries of archaeological history. Quite often it is simply the result of concentrated research by an individual or group. Rightly or wrongly, such a region comes to be thought of as having problems of its own that set it apart from other regions. Regional terms are those most often found in the titles of archaeological papers of wider scope than site reports. Through constant reiteration they become fixed in the literature and achieve a kind of independent existence. Regions are not altogether without reference to the facts of geography, however. In stressing the accidental factor in their formation, we must not overlook the tendency for environmental considerations to assert themselves. In portions of the New World where physical conditions of sharp diversity prevail, archaeological regions are likely to coincide with minor physiographic subdivisions. An excellent example is furnished by the Glades region comprising the southernmost portion of the Florida peninsula. Here the relationship between culture and a highly characterized environment has been particularly close throughout the entire span of the archaeological record. 7 Many other similar examples could be cited, and the effect would be to show that, of the various spatial units considered here, the region offers the most favorable field for the detailed study of the relationships between culture and environment. In terms of the social aspect of culture and here we must tread warily the region is roughly equivalent to the space that might be occupied by a social unit larger than the community, a unit to which we may with extreme trepidation apply the term "tribe" or 6. Gladwin et al., 1937, p Goggin, 1949, pp ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNIT CONCEPTS 19

34 "society." This rough equation is based on what we know of American tribal distributions in early historic times and must be accorded the same flexibility that we see in the size of those distributions. The same caution is required in attempting to characterize the region in terms of the cultural aspect. Generally speaking, it is a geographical space in which, at a given time, a high degree of cultural homogeneity may be expected but not counted on. As we shall see later, it is quite possible for more than one archaeological phase to occupy a region at the same time. An area is a geographical unit very considerably larger than a region; it corresponds roughly to the culture area of the ethnographer. Archaeological areas, like regions, have come into existence by common consent, but the element of historical accident is reduced somewhat by the fact that many individuals and institutions are likely to have been involved in their investigation. They tend to coincide with major physiographic divisions. That the North American Southwest, for example, has maintained its identity as an archaeological area through more than a half-century of intensive investigation is certainly due in large part to culture-environment correlations of a positive nature. It is hardly necessary to add that, although the area as defined here may have general physiographic integrity, its limits are not so easy to draw on a map as those of the smaller region. The southeastern United States is a case in point; it has to be defined afresh every time anyone writes about it. The problem is a familiar one in culture-area studies. It often happens that there are territories of geographical extent intermediate between the region and the area which possess qualities and degrees of cultural unity that give them a definite usefulness in archaeological or ethnographical studies. We refer to such spatial units as subareas. A case in point might be taken with reference to Middle America (or Mesoamerica), which has been defined quite specifically as a culture area. 8 Embracing southern Mexico and upper Central America, Mesoamerica has a distinctive culture content and patterning; yet within this sphere of common cultural 8. Kirchhoff, METHOD AND THEORY IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY 20

35 likenesses there are differences of traditionally recognized significance. As but one example, the cultures of the lowland Maya country stand in sharp contrast to those that are adjacent to them. Their art, architecture, ceramics, calendrics, and writing bind the Maya lowland territory into an obvious unit of history. At the same time, these Maya lowlands are too complex and diversified to be organized as a region, as that cultural-geographical term is defined here. Workable Maya regions might be the Peten, the Usumacinta, the Motagua-Chamelecon, or the several divisions of Yucatan, etc. In consequence, the useful term "Maya lowlands" signifies a subarea. BASIC ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNITS The concepts about to be discussed under this heading were referred to in our original paper as "formal or content units" to express the fact that the element of content is more important in their formulation than the spatial and temporal dimensions. Use of such a term, however, suggests that they are different in kind from what we later describe as "integrative" and "maximum" units, which is not strictly true. It seems preferable, therefore, to call them simply "basic units," which indeed they are. The component, a useful term which has achieved nearly universal currency in eastern North American archaeology, has been defined by W. C. McKern as the manifestation of a given archaeological "focus" at a specific site. 9 Strictly speaking, in the McKern system, the component is not a taxonomic unit. In theory the basic unit of classification is the focus, comprising a number of components, and the same may be said of what we designate as a "phase." It is a working assumption that no phase worthy of the 9. "The manifestation of any given focus at a specific site is termed a component of that focus. This is in no sense an additional type of culture manifestation, one of the five class types; rather, it is the focus as represented at a site, and serves to distinguish between a site, which may bear evidence of several cultural occupations, each foreign to the other, and a single specified manifestation at a site. In many instances several components, each at cultural variance with the other, may be found to occur at a single site" (McKern, 1939, p. 308). ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNIT CONCEPTS 21

36 name will fail to manifest itself in more than one component. In practice, of course, it often happens that a phase is initially defined on the strength of a single component, i.e., a site or a level within a site, but the expectation is implicit that other components will be found and the original definition modified accordingly. It will be noted later, however, in the discussion of the social implications of the phase, that it is theoretically and actually possible for a phase to consist of a single component. The phase is, in our opinion, the practicable and intelligible unit of archaeological study. Choice of the term accords with prevailing usage in a preponderance of New World areas, including the Southwest, most of South America, and all of Middle America. Kidder has defined the phase in the following terms: "A cultural complex possessing traits sufficiently characteristic to distinguish it for purposes of preliminary archaeological classification, from earlier and later manifestations of the cultural development of which it formed a part, and from other contemporaneous complexes." 10 Like Kidder, we prefer "phase" to the approximately equivalent "focus" because of its stronger temporal implication. The emphasis cannot be placed entirely on time, however. Modifying Kidder's definition slightly, we would prefer to describe the concept as an archaeological unit possessing traits sufficiently characteristic to distinguish it from all other units similarly conceived, whether of the same or other cultures or civilizations, spatially limited to the order of magnitude of a locality or region and chronologically limited to a relatively brief interval of time. It must be acknowledged that this definition gives a specious impression of uniformity. It would be fine if phases could be standardized as to the amount of space and time they occupy. Unfortunately, there are so many variable conditions entering into the formulation that it is neither possible nor desirable to define the scope except within rather broad limits. A phase may be anything from a thin level in a site reflecting no more than a brief encampment to a prolonged occupation of a large number of sites distributed over a region of very elastic proportions. 10. Kidder, Jennings, and Shook, 1946, p. 9. METHOD AND THEORY IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY ~J ~\ Z.Z.

37 It will be noted that Kidder's definition of phase lays more emphasis on cultural continuity than ours, since it implies necessary relations to what goes before and what comes after. We have freed it of this requirement to provide for the many instances in which we simply do not know what goes before or comes after, or for those less frequent occasions when a new phase appears as an intrusion without apparent relationship to any precedent continuity. In any case, whether as an instance of continuity or of discontinuity, the phase most often appears as one member of a series that will be referred to hereinafter as a "local" or "regional sequence." These terms will be defined presently, but let us first examine a little more closely the spatial and temporal implications of this basic archaeological unit. We have already alluded briefly to the impossibility of close delimitation of the phase in respect to the dimensions of time and space. It may help to clarify the problem to consider it in relation to various levels of cultural development. In Part II of this book we will describe a developmental scheme for New World archaeology with five hypothetical stages : Lithic, Archaic, Formative, Classic and Postclassic. It is not necessary to anticipate the definitions of these stages to point out here that the spatial and temporal dimensions of phases are not likely to be the same on all stages. For example, in the Lithic stage, in which a migratory, hunting-gathering economy is postulated, phases can be expected to occupy more geographical space than in the sedentary Formative stage. There is no regular reduction from stage to stage, however; in the Classic and Postclassic stages the spatial dimensions of phases may also be larger than in the Formative but for a different reason: the sociopolitical groups are larger. Temporal dimensions, on the other hand, may actually exhibit a regular diminution from stage to stage, if the commonly held assumption is corjrect that the rate of cultural change accelerates with increased advancement and complexity. Without elaborating this point or further refining the definition, we wish simply to emphasize that the concept of phase has no appropriate scale independent of the cultural situation in which it is ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNIT CONCEPTS 23

38 applied. This is not so great a deficiency as might appear. Looked at internally, so to speak, phases may have very considerable and highly variable spatial and temporal dimensions; looked at from the total range of New World culture-history, they are very small quantities indeed, and it is from this point of view that they assume a sort of rough equivalence, enabling us to use the concept of phase as an operational tool regardless of the developmental stage involved. As typological and stratigraphic analyses become more refined, it often becomes desirable to subdivide phases into smaller (primarily temporal) units, and it seems best to regard these as sub-phases and to give them numbers instead of names. It also sometimes happens that two or more phases in the same locality or region, originally set up as independent units, subsequently appear to be more intelligible as subphases of a single unit, though they continue to be operationally useful in sequences and area correlations. It is clearly impossible to lay down any precise rules governing the formation of subphases. In general, their use seems appropriate in cases where differences apply only to a few specific items of content or where such differences are expressible only in variations in frequency. In other words, if it is impossible to present a sensible account of the culture of a unit except in terms of what went before or came after, it is probably better regarded as a subphase. It is hardly necessary to add that subphases and components are entirely different kinds of subdivisions of the phase. TEMPORAL SERIES A local sequence in its purest form is a series of components found in vertical stratigraphic succession in a single site. It may also, however, be a composite series made by combining shorter stratigraphic "runs" from various portions of a site or from several sites within a locality, or it may be derived from seriating components by various means without benefit of stratigraphy at all. However obtained, the local sequence has this important feature: it is local. The spatial dimension, by definition, is small enough to permit the METHOD AND THEORY IN AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY 24